Chris and I are still huddled at the edge of the kitchen. A moment ago, Allison passed by. She seemed lost in thought and didn’t see me. With Gwen’s revelation still on my mind, I couldn’t have held an intelligent conversation anyway. I would have been trying to read every expression she made for a clue to tell me if Gwen is telling me the truth.
“I leave for basic training in two weeks,” Chris says, “and it couldn’t come any sooner.”
“Are you nervous about going to West Point?” I ask Chris.
“Hell no. I’ve been ready since the day I could walk. You have to realize, Brian, that when your father and brothers are all from the Army, you’re destined to be in the Army.”
“And, like, you’re cool with that?”
His eyes look around the room.
“It’s what’s expected of me. I have no emotional ties to this city. No girlfriend. No people I’ll miss when I’m gone. No offense.”
“I mean, let’s be honest, Brian, when it comes your time to get out of town, you’re gonna have trouble.”
“Trouble? With Kate?”
“I meant your best bud, Eric. You two are so tight you might as well be a couple. Hell, you’d probably do anything for him; even get the shit beat out of you.”
“He’s my best friend, so yeah.”
Chris rolls his eyes. Someone catches his attention across the room.
“There she is,” he proclaims, pointing to a girl I recognize as one of our foreign exchange students. “Her name’s Nadine. She’s from West Germany.”
“She’s European, Brian, they do things differently.
I have no idea what he’s talking about.
“You’re hopeless,” he says. Chris then looks in the air with a look of disdain. “What is this music? I thought Eric had a good record collection.”
“They’re called Los Lobos,” booms a voice behind us.
I turn around and see my old friend, Dennis Newhall, tall and lanky with a bit of a gut protruding from under his University of Dayton T-shirt.
“They all can’t be Wang Chung, Mueller,” Dennis snorts.
“Dude! When’d you get home?” I ask, slapping him on the back.
“This afternoon,” he replies.
Before Dennis graduated, many a weekend night was spent cruising around Cuyahoga in his Plymouth Horizon, with the Clash or the English Beat blasting from the car stereo. Back then, it was generally four of us: Dennis, Eric, Dennis’ smoking hot girlfriend, Sarah, and myself. Ever since he went to college, Dennis and I haven’t had a chance to talk much. He’s not into writing letters. I suppose he’s occupied with school and his girlfriend. Speaking of Sarah, she saunters up behind Dennis.
“Hi, Sarah,” I say.
“Hi, Brian,” she replies, reaching over to hug me. Her breasts press into me and her hair brushes against my face. Smells like strawberries. I have a huge crush on Sarah, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I accidentally saw her completely naked last summer. It’s a long story.
“Kate around?” Sarah asks.
“Living room, I think,” I reply.
Sarah kisses Dennis on the cheek. “I’m going to see who I know.”
“Okay, babe,” he replies.
Sarah walks off. I can’t help but steal a glance at her firm butt walking away. Wow!
Dennis pulls a can of beer from the six-pack he’s carrying. He hands it to me and pulls another off of the plastic ring for himself. He opens it quickly. Foam spills out and on to the floor. He proceeds to chug half the beer. When he comes up for air, Dennis lets out an obnoxious burp.
“Nice one,” Chris chuckles, knocking his beer against Dennis’.
Eric returns from lecturing the trumpet players about the concept of coasters and the proper material to use when cleaning up a spill. His mom’s handmade afghan is not proper material.
“Idiots. Who invited them? Dennis!”
“Mr. Hollywood!” Dennis says, extending his hand to shake Eric’s. “Any good movies I should see?”
“Anything I might have heard of?”
“Sure. Untouchables is really good. De Niro, Connery.”
“Good to know, good to know.”
Dennis chugs his beer. “You’re the big men now, huh?” he says to us. “Seniors.”
“I guess,” I reply, distracted. I catch Brett Chalmers out of the corner of my eye, camped out in the kitchen with his fellow swim team lunkheads. Suddenly, he spits a huge glob of tobacco on the wallpaper. Chalmers and his cronies all laugh obnoxiously.
“Oh shit,” I mutter, as I jump the three steps into the kitchen. People have cleared out for Eric, who’s already standing in front of Chalmers. The musclehead remains seated in one of the kitchen chairs.
“You guys have to leave,” he orders. “That is total bullshit! What the hell, man? What would you do if I spit tobacco on the wall of your house?”
Chalmers’ chair squeals under his weight as he stands up. He’s about four inches taller than Eric and his shirt can barely contain his pecs.
“What would I do?” Chalmers replies. “I’d kick. Your. Ass.”
The whole house suddenly gets quiet. In the background, the guitar solo from Los Lobos’ “Shakin’, Shakin’, Shakes’” reaches its climax. Chalmers presses his index finger into Eric’s sternum and says, “You wanna kick my ass, Garcia?”
I’ve known Eric long enough to tell you that he’s no fighting man. But he has a breaking point, and it usually involves insulting someone in his family, in particular his mother. That wallpaper? It may be ugly and dated, but I know for a fact that Mrs. Garcia labored for a week putting it up on the walls, and Eric helped her. Ugly or not, there’s sentimental value in the wallpaper, and Chalmers spitting on it might as well have been him spitting on Mrs. Garcia.
Eric’s jaw clenches. A vein in his neck throbs. His eyes slowly look down at Chalmers’ finger. Eric’s right hand tightens into a fist. This is about to get very ugly. I place my hand on Eric’s shoulder and step up behind him. I begin talking, trying to remain calm, for everyone’s sake.
“C’mon, dude,” I say to Chalmers, “look around. You don’t want to be the asshole who beat up the party host.”
Chalmers’ eyes dart around the room. A couple of kids shake their heads; two cute girls whisper to themselves. Chalmers is about to cave, so I go in for the kill.
“Do the right thing. Show everyone you’re a man and clean that crap off the wall.”
Chalmers looks at his buddies. One of them gives a slight nod.
“Gimme a napkin,” he commands. One of his friends whips out a napkin, and Chalmers wipes the tobacco juice off of the wall. Then he drops the napkin on the kitchen table and nudges past us. His friends follow after him. I hold my breath until I hear the front door slam shut. In an instant, people are clapping Eric and me on the back, telling us, “way to go,” and “dude’s got major cajones.”
Eric and I grin at each other.
“He was going to pummel me, wasn’t he?” he asks.
“Don’t worry,” I reply, “I had your back.”
Today’s artwork was by Ryan Williamson. Ryan Williamson is a wizard/fitness enthusiast from the future posing as an illustrator in the sunny seaside kingdom of Rochester, NY. In his free time he often enjoys pontificating the wonders of the multiverse while huffing gas and soaking in a hot tub of pink lemonade and arsenic. From 8 am (promptly) to 5pm (exactly) he rots away in a soul-sucking cubicle and somehow manages to choke up boner-inducing business buzz words such as data trends, synergy and integration. He rules at the drums and hits the snare like it stole his favorite Earth, Wind and Fire record. He is a registered minister in the universal life church and an honorary member of Satan’s army in good standing. He is available for birthday parties, bar mitzvah’s, sacrificial offerings and illustration gigs .www.Pixelhatedesign.com, @pixelhatedesign
Los Lobos’ song, “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” is found on their 1987 album, By the Light of the Moon.
Previous Chapters: Chapter 20, Chapter 19, Chapter 18, Chapter 17, Chapter 16, Chapter 15, Chapter 14, Chapter 13, Chapter 12, Chapter 11, Chapter 10, Chapter 9, Chapter 8, Chapter 7, Chapter 6, Chapter 5, Chapter 4, Chapter 3, Chapter 2, Chapter 1, Introduction
Read Chapter 22 of Legendary.